Drive through downtown Conway, and you’re likely to see Kim Williams talking with shopkeepers, meeting with property owners, watering plants, or cleaning up a sidewalk – anything to keep downtown Conway prosperous and looking top-notch for patrons, businesses, and residents.
“It’s the heart of the city,” Williams, executive director of the Conway Downtown Partnership, said. “If your downtown is not strong, it’s not pumping anything out to the rest of the city.”
Williams’ central belief is a thriving downtown gives residents and visitors a sense of place and belonging, and in turn, makes the entire city better and stronger.
“You can connect to downtown in a way you can’t connect to other parts of a city, and Conway is no different,” she said.
Williams’ view on what a downtown can provide a city was implanted at a young age, spending much of her childhood with relatives who lived just two blocks from the downtown district of her hometown in Berryville.
“I would go with my grandma and great aunt and walk downtown, go to the shops, and go to the downtown grocer,” she said. “It feels good to get to try to recreate that experience for others through my job now.”
The Conway Downtown Partnership was established in 2001 with the backing of property owners in the district.
“The Conway Downtown Partnership was formed because the business community saw the need for a dedicated, privately funded organization whose sole focus would be on the redevelopment of the downtown core,” Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation, said. “We were clear in our belief that the mission should go beyond marketing and promotion and focus on redevelopment of the streetscape, existing buildings, and vacant lots.”
Since 2001, the Conway Downtown Partnership has fostered millions of dollars in private and public investments in downtown; welcomed new businesses, restaurants, and shops to the area; and overseen a massive list of renovations.
Today, downtown Conway is home to nearly 300 businesses and 2,800 employees.
Lacy said Williams has been key to the area’s growth since her coming aboard in 2009, calling her the “heart and soul” of downtown Conway.
“She knows everyone by name, and she is familiar with every building, who owns it, how large it is, and whether it is a contributing structure,” Lacy said. “She is a servant leader to our downtown community. You routinely see her picking up litter, pulling weeds, or assisting business owners with whatever is needed.”
Not only that, Lacy said Williams is an outstanding teammate to the rest of the organizations at 900 Oak St.
“Whether it’s a chamber, Conway Development Corporation, or Convention and Visitors Bureau event, Kim is always present, helpful, and engaged,” he said.
When a resident or out-of-towner comes to downtown, Williams said she wants them to see a vibrant downtown with plenty of options.
“We set the table for people to come, and everyone chooses something different,” she said. “Some come for the restaurants, some want to shop, and others come for the nightlife. It becomes something for everyone, but we have to make sure we have those options available.”